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Fifth Sunday in Lent
Ezekiel 37:1-14; Psalm 130; Romans 8:1-11; John 11:1-45

The texts for this Sunday leave no doubt about where the Lenten journey will end. A week before Palm/Passion Sunday and the start of Holy Week and it’s not the scent of spring flowers in the air but death–as shrouded, four-days-dead Lazarus is stinking up the place. Dry bones are on Ezekiel’s mind—brittle, rattling remains beyond the stages of rot and stench. “Our hope is lost,” the people in exile say, “we are cut off completely” (37:11). The Psalm, too, the de Profundis, commonly read at funerals or included in settings of the requiem mass, acknowledges the depths of human despair and hopelessness.

These are not unfamiliar themes to us. This has been a springtime of death—tens of thousands who have perished in Japan; violent deaths on the streets of Libya, Afghanistan, Congo, and Ivory Coast—to name only a few of the world’s dark places haunted (and hunted, it seems) by death. So mortality is not mere metaphor here. This is about stinking corpses, dried up bones, prayers of anguish and desperation. This is where the Lenten journey will end.

When Jesus arrives at the home of Lazarus he finds that “many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother (11:19).” There is much weeping, as there usually is when a loved one dies. Some in the crowd were likely professional mourners whose job was to give dramatic, ritual expression to a family’s grief—vocalizations that would raise the emotional pitch of the gathering and provide cathartic release for the bereaved. It must have been quite a sound.

So much so that we learn that Jesus is “greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved” (11:33). The Greek, though, suggests something more primitive—animalistic, even (enebrimēsato): that Jesus snorted like a horse. English translations generally miss this quality of character in Jesus as he makes his way through the crowd to the tomb of Lazarus: he is agitated, irritated, vexed.  

Why?

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